What Work-Life Balance During COVID?

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My daughter asked me a couple weeks ago whether I could take off the summer to play with her.  I laughed and said no.  I told her that I needed and wanted to work.  That made me reflect on the question all working moms think about from time to time: Can I have work-life balance, especially now?

Due to COVID, work-life balance struggle has intensified.  In 2020, over 2 million women left the workforce in the US. I don’t want to speculate the reasons, but the stress played a key role because women still manage more burdens in their home.

work life balance for momsWorking at home during a pandemic

As a single working mother, I felt the struggle acutely during COVID.  I was thankful to be able to work from home 100% of the time and have the resources to get groceries delivered and order carryout from time to time. Even so, working full time and assisting my daughter with her remote learning was challenging. The constant interruption about technology issues, finding this and that, the need for me to keep her on schedule, etc.  Also, my own work schedule was not any less intense because I was working remotely.  I don’t know how people with multiple children and younger ones get through their days.

Childcare is necessary for work-life balance

With the significant reduction in infection rates due to vaccination in the DMV area, schools and camps were beginning to reopen for in-person learning. But the pandemic highlighted the importance of childcare and economic parity for working moms.  Work-life balance cannot exist if working moms don’t have access to quality and affordable childcare.

Staggering statistics for women

The World Economic Forum reported in its Global Gender Gap Report 2020 (data from pre-pandemic period), that the portion of unpaid work per day for women was 1.56 higher than men in the US, and that the gender gap pay was 18.2%.  So how can we help working moms have more freedom to pursue professional and financial goals without feeling that they are sacrificing their families or burning out?

Most importantly, we should not lead women to believing that maintaining work-life balance is their problem alone. In my opinion, it has to be addressed at the societal level through public policy and at the community level through neighborly relationship-building. It must also be addressed at the individual level through self-reflection.

Society Level

Based on the Global Gender Gap Report 2020 noted above, the US was ranked 53rd among 153 countries’ Global General Gap Index.  The Global Gender Gap Index was used to measure the extent of gender-based gaps among four key dimensions and to track progress towards closing these gaps over time. We were ranked behind most of the developed countries such as Germany, UK, Canada, etc., and many developing countries including Mexico, Zimbabwe, Rwanda, Argentina, etc.

Gender equality

The main contributors to this low ranking were economic participation and opportunity as well as political empowerment.  We need legislation on equal pay and childcare access. The US was ranked 86th for political empowerment with only approximately 20% of female representation in public offices even though women represent 50% of the population.  This makes passing gender-based public policy challenging because women were minority in public offices.  There is a great deal of work to be done in advancing gender equality, but we could start with exercising our right to vote and how we use our financial resources by supporting women candidates and women-owned businesses.

Community Level

We all have heard the African proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.”  There is so much wisdom to this proverb.  Every parent needs help some time, especially for those whose families are not nearby.  Unfortunately, in our individualistic culture, the village may not exist for everyone so work-life balance for moms is more difficult.  We may not even know our neighbors.  We may be afraid to ask for help.  Finding and cultivating a community where you could ask for help is critical.

I have been raising my daughter in DC for the past nine years and I have met many friendly neighbors, parents, and church friends.  In addition, you can reach out to others through the various listserv and meetup groups.  On the other hand, it is a blessing to help others in need.  This weekend, I heard someone from church shared how she met a lady at the bus stop seven years ago and offered her a couch to sleep on.  They are best friends now.  Every day, we have the opportunity to encounter others and if we are willing to take the time to see and listen to others, we could be a blessing to others.

Individual Level

Based on my observation and my own experience, one of the most common feelings moms have is guilt.  We might want to be perfect moms or meet certain self-imposed standards.  When we don’t meet them, we feel guilty and discouraged.  For example, we all want to raise healthy children.  It takes time to cook healthy meals every day.  One might feel guilty to have to get a quick meal because of her work.  One mindset that might be helpful is to acknowledge that we are never going to be perfect moms.  We are human and we need care and love as well.  That would help set us free from the anxiety to meet every need our children have and take time to rest.  I know that this is easier said than done, especially for people with limited resources and support.  Nonetheless, our children don’t need us to be perfect.  They need us to be present and authentic.
can moms have it all?

In summary, maintaining work-life balance is not an individual problem.  Consequently, we need help from our government, community and each other.  Let’s start small today by acknowledging and accepting that we cannot do it all.

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